Over the weekend we received the following update from the search team, first with exciting news and then dismay…
‘Our routine has been pretty standard, up at 5.00am and then airborne in the super cub at first light with the thermal imaging equipment whilst the ground teams deploy to their various sectors to search for the rhino's tracks.
Then yesterday we had a break. I was flying the cub with Ian Craig in the observer’s seat operating the thermal equipment. On our first run of the area I hear an excited shout over the intercom.
''I think I have him, he's down there in the lava.''
We swoop down and sure enough there was a rhino. As we got closer it was clear we had the right rhino as around his neck was a crimson band of congealed blood. It did not look good as he hardly moved and Ian and I both thought we had found him too late and he was on his last legs, weak and unable to move.
From there on it was a blur of activity. We landed in a nearby clearing where the ground teams met us and Ian took off on foot with his dart gun believing it would be an easy job from here on. But when he got to where we had seen him there was no rhino. He had done another of his disappearing acts so Ian asked me to get in the air again to see what I could spot, , but again nothing as he had moved back into a thicket.
Our only hope now was a helicopter which arrived exactly two hours later and was positioned waiting for a call by the ground teams. It did not take long in coming. The rhino was spotted, a smoke canister was set off to guide him in.
He was on it in no time and circling above in the cub I saw the rhino galloping through the bush with the helicopter hovering above it. I thought.at long last, we'd got him! Then the worst news possible came through the radio, It was Ian…'' It’s the wrong rhino, it’s not injured!"
Reading the tracks, the ground crew could see that the injured rhino had joined up with another and he had held his ground whilst the other rhino had shot off with the helicopter following in hot pursuit. The crew got back on the right tracks and here disaster nearly struck.
The rhino had not gone far and exploded out of thick bush, charging straight towards them. Everyone went for a tree – the only escape from a rhino in this situation. Joseph, the senior rhino ranger, was not close enough to a tree and became the target of the rhino’s charge.
By luck there was a big rock just in front of Joseph which the rhino stumbled on at full speed and tripped, casting Joseph aside like a leaf in a storm before disappearing back into the thicket. From here on we don’t really know what happened but somehow the rhino managed to evade being spotted by the helicopter and the super cub from the air.
You can imagine the despondency of the whole team. After so much effort and expense ionly to lose him after five long weeks of dawn to dusk searches. We have been so close and having been that close, and having seen the extent of his injuries, it has made it even worse.
The last two days we have been searching for him using every means possible but have been frustrated by what normally we would call the blessing of heavy rain, making the job almost impossible. Today we are all finding it difficult to remain positive, but tomorrow is another day.
We gave the game scouts a choice of taking a day off yesterday as they were exhausted – mentally and physically but they turned it down saying we can’t give up, we have to help this rhino. So with that attitude we still have a chance.
The search for the snared rhino is draining funds. Every time a plane or helicopter goes up it costs a huge amount of money that the team cannot afford.
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